Nigeria Tam Tam: Abati: As Nigeria goes to the polls

Abati: As Nigeria goes to the polls

Election-logo“Your friend has withdrawn from the race.”

“Who is that?”

“Who else?”

“You tell me.”

“Your Patito brother”

“You mean Professor Pat Utomi?”

“Yes. If he knew that he was going to pull out of the race, then why did he go for presidential debates, does he think that running for President is another opportunity for punditry?”

“Yes,  in a way it is. In a country where there is no respect for ideas, where the political process has been hijacked by all kinds of pretenders with powerful Godfathers, you need the likes of Utomi to stand up and articulate the issues, and help the political class to define the national agenda. Have you not noticed that Nigeria’s best and brightest often run away from politics? When a few of them join politics, the usual thing is to laugh at their resolve.”

“Well, I think Utomi speaks very well. He is very articulate and knowledgeable, but that is not what Nigerian politics needs. Nigerian politics is not yet made for knowledgeable people, it is not for people who speak big grammar, it is not about ideas, it is not for people who insist that Nigeria must take a quantum leap from the Third World to the First…”

“I know. I know.  Nigerian politics is for thugs, terrorists, ex-convicts, errand boys, wives and girlfriends and sons-in-law.  It is for people who can’t speak English, or use their brains! It is about knowing how to beat the system, and take advantage of it. But if we accept that to be reality, where then will the change we seek come from, and when? Utomi’s withdrawal is a statement that this election is not worth the attention of decent people and that our so-called democracy is not working.  May be we’d get it right in the next election if we do our homework and rebuild our institutions and processes.”

“No, is that what he is saying? But he has endorsed the ANPP Presidential candidate Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau. He says his supporters should vote for Shekarau. He wants people like you to support Shekarau. You think Shekarau can win?”

“Shekarau has clearly demonstrated a good understanding of the issues at the heart of the national question and he is articulate. I watched him rise to the occasion in the debate organized by NN24”

“He is articulate. You don’t get it. In politics, when you withdraw, you endorse a man that you are convinced will win the votes and when he does, he will remember you and take care of you, and also arrange things for your supporters. You don’t endorse a man who stands no chance of giving you anything in return.”

“That in fact, is the import of Utomi’s choice. That politics should not be about the belly, or friendship, or selfish gains. It should be about higher ideals, about positive, transformative signals, grand gestures that move the country many notches higher.”

“You don start. So why didn’t Utomi choose President Jonathan who wants to transform Nigeria.”

“You will need to ask him.”

“Or Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN? Is he saying that he does not like Ribadu and Fola Adeola?”
“Candidly, I can’t speak for him. Wait for him to write his “Why I endorsed Shekarau”
“He says he likes young people. Why didn’t he endorse Dele Momodu of the National Conscience Party?”

“If you want his phone number, I’ll be glad to give you.  But why don’t you go and read his statement: “Walking my talk: A cry for my beloved country.” He has made it clear that there is so much deceit in this country and that this is not yet a democracy, and that he weeps for Nigeria. That coming from a Presidential candidate is a big blow to the present process. Election monitors and observers would have taken special notice of that.”

“What is it then? Are we not voting again tomorrow because Utomi has withdrawn from the race? Election monitors will note anything. They have to write their reports!”
“Now, you don’t get it. And in fact, the problem with this country is that many of you wielding paper qualifications have no idea how this country runs, how it works and what is required to move it forward. We have a middle class that has lost it and that is a tragedy.”

“Thank you. I am a pragmatist. Who else is withdrawing from the race, by the way? Have you heard from Dele Momodu, who is also your friend?”

“He is in the race.”

“Even after nobody invited him to any debate, including all the debates organized by his own colleagues in the media? The NN24 debate; the Nigeria Election Debate Group event in Abuja; both organized by mass media organizations?

The media has not been fair to Dele Momodu.”

“He is not running as a media candidate. He is in the race as a Nigerian.”

“You people did not invite him, but you invited a man who could not speak English to take part in a Presidential debate. That Mallam who chose to campaign in Hausa;  if he attends a meeting with a foreign dignitary, will he speak Hausa?”

“The Chinese President speaks Chinese. The German Chancellor speaks German, so why not Hausa?”

“Hausa is not Nigeria’s official language.”

“Well, the man was not representing Nigeria at any function. He was taking part in a debate which provided him an opportunity to promote his party, and himself. I believe that the man can speak English. He says he has been in politics since 1967. He has been an organizing secretary of political parties.  He spoke Hausa and now the entire country has noticed him. I consider that a smart strategy. In any case, he may also have gained the attention of the Hausa-speaking segment of the Nigerian populace. May be that is where his party wants to concentrate efforts.”

“So tomorrow, someone will show up at a presidential debate and speak Ejagham or Fulfude? Is it possible that someone in the United States will take part in an election debate and speak a strange language?”

“That is America. This is Nigeria.”

“I know. Anything is possible in Nigeria. And that is why 24 hours to the first election in the April 2011 general elections, there is so much uncertainty in the land. That is why political leaders would say one thing today and say another thing tomorrow.”
“Who has been talking from both sides of the mouth?”

“Obasanjo.  In 2010, he said publicly that there was no zoning agreement in the PDP Constitution; that was his response to the Northerners who insisted that President Goodluck Jonathan could not run for President in the 2011 election. Now, less than a year later, the same man is saying that the zoning of public offices in the party is “alive and kicking”. He even commended the PDP for having the principle of zoning and rotation enshrined in its Constitution. Why can’t politicians be consistent?”

“Why can’t Baba be consistent? He wanted Third Term in 2007, and now he says he never wanted a Third Term in office.”

“Well, Baba is getting old.”

“I dey laugh o.”

“Baba also says Jonathan will spend only one term as President, and that he has agreed to do so.”

“I hope nobody is fooled by that. Obasanjo himself was supposed to spend only one term, as President between 1999 and 2003. He asked for a second term, and tried to steal a third. And why does he talk as if Jonathan has already won the election? Has there been a Presidential election that we are not aware of?”

“When a Nigerian politician says good morning to you, I advise you check your wrist watch immediately before responding. Too many Nigerian leaders are setting bad examples for Nigerian youths. In the Abuja debate, did you not hear the Vice President, Namadi Sambo  when he said that during this election, there should be one child, one vote, and one youth, one vote! One child, one vote!”

“I am really afraid of what tomorrow will bring.”

“Well, tomorrow, Nigerians will go out to vote, in what will be the first election in a make or break 2011 general election. You are expected to get to the polling booth by 8 am, go through accreditation between 8 am and 12. 30 pm, cast your vote, and then wait till your vote is counted, or you go home and return to monitor your vote, and ensure that there is no mago mago, wururuwu, jegajega.”

“I know all that. But I am worried about the threat of violence. It is as if the country is going to war.”

“That is what it is. I don’t deceive myself. Election is war in Nigeria.”

“It shouldn’t be.”

“The flashpoints are known: Anambra, Osun, Imo, Plateau, Oyo, Rivers, Ogun, Enugu, Bayelsa, Nassarawa, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom.  It is left to the security agencies to be up and doing and maintain law and order. The good thing is that soldiers have been called out to secure the country.”

“An election in which the entire country has to be militarized is no longer a democratic election. Turning the entire country into a garrison command, defeats the objectives of a free and fair election. You think people will go out and vote, with so many guns on the streets?”
“I have asked my wife to stockpile food. And I know many families that have stockpiled food just in case it is not safe to go out onto the streets.”

“You, cowards! Oh ye of little faith. If everyone stays back at home to eat and sleep, who will go out and vote?”

“I speak for myself. I will monitor the election first on television, and decide whether I should go out or not. I want to be alive to see what will happen. Have you not been reading the papers: there has been too much talk about showdown, meltdown, explosion, terror, bombs, do or die, tsunami. Nigeria is not worth dying for.”

“But some people say they are ready to die to ensure the success of these elections. Obasanjo says he is ready to die, the INEC Chair says he is not afraid for his life.”
“Good for them.”

“No election has been so uncertain in recent times. Across the country, 870, 000 voters have been blacklisted for multiple registration with 48, 000 voters in Rivers alone. On election day, more cases of double registration may also be discovered during accreditation. So who will be left to vote?”

“I can’t tell.”

“There is so much anxiety in the land, and very little excitement.”

“It is always like that. But Nigeria will survive. We always survive.”

“The country needs to do a lot more than survive. It needs to make progress.”

“Well?”

“In the just released NECO results for 2010 November/December Senior Secondary School Examinations, it is reported that 80% of the candidates failed the English language exam.”

“Are you complaining? I thought you said it was alright for a Vice presidential candidate not to be able to speak English. When those kids who failed NECO English exam grow up, they too can speak whatever tongue and have interpreters speak for them.”

“… I cry for my beloved country.”

“Like your friend.”

“Yes.”